Richmond County schools are on the move, according to Superintendent Dr. Angela Pringle.
Pringle said she and her team are bringing in resources from the community to help the school district, which has had low graduation rates and standardized testing scores. To help increase graduation rates, she points to new technology and programs such as Reaching Potential Through Manufacturing and Career, Technical and Agricultural Education.
Both programs take students out of the classroom and place them in a work environment in local businesses like the Augusta Regional Airport or Textron Specialized Vehicles. With 21 under-performing schools, district officials are trying to prevent the possibility of some of them being affected by House Bill 338, also known as the First Priority Act, which would allow a state-appointed “Turnaround Coach” to enter those schools to help parents, teachers and administrators resolve the issues.
“We are attempting to be innovative in our practices, and we feel really good about the direction that we are going,” Pringle said.
Pringle discusses the First Priority Act and other challenges faced by the school district in an interview with The Chronicle.
How is Richmond County preparing for the growth with the cyber industry expanding?
We do more planning on the side of academic achievement. I think the operational side of accepting students and receiving students and having the capacity for students is there for us. Right now it’s not a challenge for us. At two of our schools we added mobile units. Hydes and Forest Hills will see some mobile units. We will also open three new schools. We will open one in the fall of 2018 and that will be the K-8 school on Jimmie Dyess. That particular area is exploding with new families moving in. The following year we will have a new Wheeless Road Elementary and a new Sego K-8 which will accomodate some anticipated growth in those areas. Right now, Wheeless Road has a capacity of 550 and will open with a capacity of 800. Sego will open with the capacity of 900 with the ability to add space to those schools. We have also added classes to Warren Road and Garrett (Elementary).
The E-SPLOST dollars are really allowing us to quickly adjust our facilities to meet numbers.
How do you and the board of education leadership plan to handle House Bill 338, which could give control of schools to state-appointed directors?
I believe in steady and consistent improvements that are sustainable over time. I believe the initiatives that we have in place such as smaller class sizes, a focus on literacy, we have a really good number of students in summer school to extend the school year and minimize summer learning loss. Some turnaround initiatives we have for the coming year will get our schools where they need to be. We know that turning around student achievement is a process; it’s not something that happens overnight, but I feel that we have reorganized our central office and our leaders and teachers and I feel comfortable that we are going to see our gains over the next two to three years.
Does that mean there won’t be some consequences down the road? Certainly we’re prepared to handle those should they come to pass, but I am fully confident in our children and our community; I believe they will work together to overcome some of our challenges.
I really want to brag on our Chamber of Commerce’s initiative, which is the Business Education Advisory Committee with Phil Wahl being the chairman of that committee. They are really making an effort to use community resources working with companies and community nonprofits to increase the wraparound services that are really needed to support children.
I’m also really proud of our county commission and board of education for working collaboratively and removing some barriers that exist for some of our students. I think when people work together, they can overcome a lot so I’m looking forward to leveraging some of that work to see our schools improve and not be subject to some of those consequences.
What is the overall biggest challenge in education?
There are so many challenges today. I think we are struggling with the perception that public schools do not work for all children, and I disagree with that perception so the biggest challenge is really helping get community members and businesses to understand and change the narrative about public education.
What is the most rewarding thing about working in education?
Oh, graduation! Graduation is so exciting. We are in the business of graduating students to go to the next level in their lives and that is the most exciting.
What do you look forward to most this school year?
I look forward to our new teachers and the excitement that they bring. They are so excited. I look forward to the new uses of technology that we will be using this school year. I’m looking forward to children being more engaged in learning. It’s not the laptop or device that gets if for you, it’s the activities around it – that personal learning environment.